Editor Joe Howry is tired of doing battle with the anti-social idiots who comment on the Ventura County Star website. From now on, he writes, "we are going to be extremely aggressive in making sure this pariah pack can't form again and be ruthless in dealing with offenders." The paper will limit comments to a five or six safe stories a day (none involving sexual assault, for instance) and delete any public postings that step over the line. He bills it as one final chance for comments at the paper to work:
What began as a well-meaning attempt to engage our readers in thought-provoking, informative conversations about local issues turned into a cesspool of vitriol, name-calling, rudeness and even racism. What's worse, the vast majority of these conversations are being conducted by just a handful of people who so dominate the discussions they either scare away or run off anyone who tries to engage in civil dialogue...
Although their beliefs differ sharply, they do share several common characteristics, among them lack of civility, bad manners, intolerance and little courage. Anonymity is the real culprit. Behind that veil, claiming it is their free speech right, they attack without mercy or conscience.
Their hit parade includes publicly naming victims of sexual assault and making fun of or disparaging people who have died. They have libeled, slurred, demeaned and threatened any and all who dared to disagree with them. There are times they have acted like a voracious wolf pack, ganging up on and ripping apart the poor soul who dared to venture into their territory.
We have tried to be tolerant, respectful and even forgiving. Each time, we've had it thrown back in our faces, with no attempt by the offenders to change their behavior or to acknowledge they are our guests. They demand their free speech rights while failing to comprehend we have the right to refuse to host comments that we feel are offensive and inappropriate. This is not a matter of a difference of opinion, as we don't believe we have the right to reject comments because we disagree with the opinions expressed; it's a matter of responsibility and accountability.
They're grappling with the old dilemma: they want to allow comments, but in many readers eyes their product — their very brand — is tarnished by the ugliness of the small numbers who post to newspaper sites.